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Evidence of His Power

Posted by David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz have moved from San Antonio, Texas to Paraguay to join the Lord in what He is already ...
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on Monday, 30 November 2015
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Have you ever come to a point where you feel like you’ve reached the end of yourself? The end of your capacity to do, achieve, make right, feel good, or turn things around?

When you hear songs about being broken and empty so that you can be brought to a place where God is “your one and only desire”, do you relate to that because you’ve truly experienced brokenness or does it just stir you up because it's good music?

If I’m honest, I’d tell you that for many years, these words were on my lips as words of praise, but I didn’t truly know what it would feel like to come to the end of myself. To look at my oikos (those in my life, my sphere of ministry) and say, “God I have no idea what to do. I feel like I’m drowning here and every now and then an oar of life comes along and rather than lifting me up it smacks me on the back of the head. And what’s more is somewhere along the line I grew numb and stopped caring. I don’t doubt the truth of who you are or that you desire to work through me in your plan to expand your kingdom, but I’ve just got nothing.” And in that moment you either sink and give up or you begin to learn a new level of dependence on the Lord. You “come to him (because) he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Our past two years have been spent developing relationships, living where God has placed us and reaching out (somewhat awkwardly at times) to just love people where He has put us. We have experienced a house fire our second day in our home and the fairly traumatic birth of our 3rd child.  We have been swindled, hit up for bribes by the police, Rebecca and the kids were in a hit-and-run auto accident, and our house burglarized—all in a period of 2 years. This truthfully felt like more than enough to handle. We could see God’s hand and we were learning to trust him at a deeper level, walking in a new level of humility and submission. And then this September rolled around and (as most of you already know) Bob, Rebecca’s Dad went to be with Jesus. There was no warning, no time to react or plan or really even say goodbye. And our world just stopped. None of us have ever walked through grief like this before. We still have no idea what we are doing or how to go forward.  To make matters worse, David’s dad was experiencing serious complications from a surgery and was being hospitalized the very day we learned that Bob had died. Even as we boarded our flight to San Antonio for Bob’s funeral, David’s dad’s situation became more serious and he would require 2 more surgeries over a period of 3 weeks. Ultimately, part of our family flew back to Paraguay early for fear that we would be saying goodbye to another Grandpa.

These details are not given so you can feel sorry for our situation or so you can look at it and think, “gee, I’m really glad that’s not us. I don’t think I could do that.” But I share this so I can tell you, we have had to land on our knees with a new level of crying out to God. Most days we are still walking through a kind of numbness. On almost every level of life and ministry Bob was a key part, often behind the scenes. I’ve found myself asking, “God, I can’t even get myself together, how in the world can I reach out to others?” In his goodness and mercy God has answered this beautifully in a way that really shows his power displayed more greatly through our weakness.

Shortly after returning to Paraguay from Bob’s funeral, I was at lunch with a friend. This is a friend whom our family has prayed for repeatedly and yet we have seen very little interest or receptiveness to spiritual things. During lunch, I shared how I was grateful that walking through loss and grief for the first time with our kids was happening with someone like Bob, who was a believer. Because of this I could tell Elizabeth and Lucas with confidence that Grandpa knew Jesus as his savior and was very definitely in heaven with the Lord. My friend then gently and with true child-like curiosity asked, “How do you really know that? I mean, what about other faiths? Or really good people? How do you explain that to the kids?” I then began to walk her through God’s plan of salvation starting from the beginning and sharing how unlike any other religion, God’s story is one of pursuit, of reaching down and suffering with/for his people, all so he could redeem them. No other religion offers that. I can’t even recall all of the specific words that I shared. As I later realized, there was scripture coming out of me that I didn’t even know was in there. And all the while the “feelings” part of me was truthfully still very numb with grief. I wasn’t looking for an opportunity to share or preach at my friend and I wasn’t worried about what words I used or if I would offend. I was numb.  But none of that mattered. That day God included me in what He was doing. I was able to be his light just by being willing to be there and letting him shine through.

My mistake is thinking that somehow God is relying on me to do or say something significant. I think that if I bake enough meals or reach out to enough people that it will be my love that softens their hearts. But all it took was that one lunch for me to realize, “nope it really isn’t about me.” God’s purposes will be accomplished. They will not be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)

So I’ve stopped worrying so much about having a plan, checking off a list of who I shared with that day or had an impact on. Instead, I wake up each day, often dragging myself out of bed, with a new level of commitment to prayer, knowing I cannot make it through the day without him. Then I simply put myself before the throne saying, “God, you know my heart. I’m here. I’m an open vessel to be used by you for your glory. Take all your power and make it shine beautifully through my weakness.”

We are each claiming the truth of Isaiah 30:20-21 and 41:31, “Though the Lord gave [me] adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with [me] to teach [me]. [I] will see [my] teacher with [my] own eyes. [My very] own ears will hear him. Right behind [me] a voice will say, “This is the way you should go.”  [And because of this we know]  “those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

In Christ,

Rebecca

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Fishers of Men

Posted by David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz have moved from San Antonio, Texas to Paraguay to join the Lord in what He is already ...
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on Sunday, 05 April 2015
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"Come follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19 (NIV)
 
"I spent forty minutes talking to her about the Bible," a resident named Dora* said to me last week about a conversation she had just had with another resident, "and she wouldn't change her mind or believe."
 
As Dora shared this story, with a hint of frustration in her voice, she didn't realize that her offhand comment was an answer to over two years of prayer.  Our desire in coming to Paraguay was to see the Lord raise up His disciples who would then go out and make other disciples.  With this objective in mind, over the past five weeks, David has been meeting weekly with a group of residents for discipleship and spiritual "boot camp" training.  Dora had only attended three of the sessions and had not been the most vocal participant, which left David wondering how much had been sinking in.  David had also been frustrated by trying to get the residents to actually apply what they were learning during the week, and frankly, if he had to pick someone, he would not have thought Dora would be the one who would witness to her colleagues.  So when she talked about reaching out to her colleagues and sharing about Jesus, it reminded David that he shouldn't presume to know whose heart God is working in and no matter how long someone has been a believer, the Holy Spirit can still breath new life resulting in a renewed passion for sharing Jesus with others.
 
When Jesus called the first disciples, he was pretty clear on what that meant.  In Matthew 4:19, Jesus said, "Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men."  When we commit to following Jesus, through his power, He makes us into bearers of the good news and ambassadors for Him (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Jesus reiterates that principle in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) and again in Acts 1:8.  So when Dora made the effort, despite a busy physician's schedule, being a single mother, and living in a culture where studying the Bible, listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit is not considered "normal", Jesus began working in her heart to give her both the desire and the ability to share the Good News of His salvation.

If what Jesus said is true in that when we follow Him He will make us fishers of men, why don't we see this sharing of the gospel more in our own lives and in the lives of others who claim to be His followers?  Perhaps we don't really understand what our primary purpose is when we decide to follow Jesus, as mentioned in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8.  Maybe, like Dora, we shared the gospel with someone, only to have them reject it, and we got discouraged and gave up, forgetting that people didn't believe Jesus himself when He spoke to them about God's kingdom (John 10:25).  Or maybe we've tried to usurp his role and forgotten that God only calls us to be obedient and share and not assume the burden of changing the other person's heart, which is the Holy Spirit's job (John 16:8-9).  Or maybe we don't know how to share the Gospel (1 Peter 3:15).  Sometimes, we may not be willing to pay the cost of following Jesus (Luke 14:25-33).  At other times we allow sin to entangle us and distract us (Hebrews 12:1) or we don't truly have God's heart and love for those that are lost (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  Whatever the reason may be, God doesn't condemn us as His children (Romans 8:1-2) when we fall short, but is waiting for us to turn to Him and claim His promise in Phillipians 4:13, that He will work in us to will and to act according to His good purpose and make us fishers of men.  

As we've mentioned before, just being overseas and wearing the job title of missionary does not give us an exempt pass from the difficulties of sharing the gospel or even our God-story. If anything the new language and cultural barriers make that even harder. This encounter with Dora was a reminder that we too need to push ourselves each day beyond what's comfortable. Go out on the street and meet the neighbor that you haven't even seen in the year and half that you've lived there.  Don't just wave at the elderly widow as you pass by, stop and talk to her.  Invite the interruptions to your day, and keep trying to make connections with the other parents at the kids' school, even if you feel like the odd-man-out. The reality is that in light of a faith that is worthless without the resurrection, what are we doing just walking through the motions of life? If we are not proclaiming the truth of our miraculous salvation and the love of a God that threw it all out there for us, then we are no better off than the guy who looks in the mirror and then walks away forgetting what he looks like (James 1:23-24). God is calling all of us to be a new generation that wakes up and responds to his call to go and make disciples.

Please continue to pray that God would raise up fishers of men in Paraguay.  Pray for us as we disciple those around us and ask the Lord to fill them with the Holy Spirit so that they would boldly proclaim the message of God's salvation through Christ Jesus.

In Him,
 
David, Rebecca, Elizabeth, Lucas & Isabel

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God's Love Story

Posted by David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz have moved from San Antonio, Texas to Paraguay to join the Lord in what He is already ...
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on Sunday, 30 November 2014
in Uncategorized

What the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God's action in them find that God's Spirit is in them--living and breathing God!  Romans 8: 4-6 (Message)
 
It might come as a surprise to you (I know it did to me), that the biggest individual obstacle keeping people from surrendering to Jesus here in Paraguay (much like in the U.S.) is the misconception that a relationship with Jesus is really just a set of rules, of “do’s and don’ts”. Or it’s the misunderstanding that faith is something inherited, much like green eyes or skin coloring.
 
So when we attempt to start spiritual conversations it’s often met with a head nod, but inward thoughts of “yep, got that. I know who God is.” Or in one case I overheard one well-meaning person say to another who was in tears as the Holy Spirit began stirring things up, “well don’t worry, there is no need for tears, its not like you’ve done anything that bad.”
 
At some point along the way, many people have accepted that God’s intent is to impose a list of "do’s" and "don'ts" that will somehow make us into better people, sort of like a year-round version of Santa Claus, keeping his list and checking it twice. And it has encouraged the idea that if you haven't really done anything "that bad," then you are probably in the good graces of God, with an eternal reservation in heaven. End of story.
 
The problem is, the real story is nothing like that. Our life here and the choices we make are all only part of Phase I of the great story God has been writing since the time of Adam and Eve. God is the great romancer of this story and each one of us is his beloved. So what does it look like to be romanced by God? In a dating relationship, I think of a guy wooing and pursuing a woman. I think of flowers, date nights, moonlit conversations lasting late into the evenings, colored with laughter and stories that communicate a shared knowledge of each others’ past, creating a deeper sense of knowing the other person and true intimacy.  I also think of time, spending lots of time together--getting to know each other and deepening the relationship. A deepening that comes through sharing hard times, fatigue, joys and hurts.  We usually DON'T picture a first date where one of the individuals hands the other a list of rules and explains that every week they will be evaluated on how well they did or didn’t do and that a second date will be determined by whether or not they managed to do enough of the things on the "good" list (although this does sound like a reality TV series). Nor do we think of relationships without the key component of time invested in the other person.
 
So, what does all this have to do with ministry in Paraguay?  God is about reconciling the world and everything in it to himself through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:20).  He is out to show the world that he pursues us as his beloved and wants a relationship with us, one based on love, not rules or a scoring system. And God calls us to walk out a life of love demonstrating it to others. We are the tangible presence of His love.

We can't be His love if we hibernate in our houses tied to our TVs, social media, and overstuffed schedules. We have to protect time and use it to invest in relationships. It's not a one-time visit, it takes patience, persistence, a willingness to love others even when they are not “loveable” and to show through both words and actions that our love, just like God’s, does not depend on performance. We have to show others by our actions that we love and value them as the precious creations they are in God's sight. To God the Father, each and every one of us was worth the sacrifice of Jesus. But people won't know or see that if we don't live outwardly. We must take that love outside our home, our church, our family.  For us here in Paraguay that's been hard (I'm not sure why I thought because we were responding to God's call on our hearts that it would be easy). We have had to be willing to let go of everything we thought we knew in order to learn from God a completely different, and at times painstakingly slow, way of sharing our lives with those around us. Not seeing immediate results isn't easy, but think of the time God patiently invests in us. It's worth it if by our lives lived in community here, we can show people God's great romance lived out.  Our prayer is that the words of truth we’ve been speaking from the beginning come alive by the power of the Holy Spirit as eyes are opened and hearts can truly see their need for Jesus.
 
As you go about engaging the world in the place God has you, please remember us and those that we are loving for Jesus in Paraguay in your prayers. Pray that God would open doors to building authentic relationships and that people would see in us the very same kind of brokenness and helplessness that they experience knowing Jesus is the only way. Ask God to fling open wide his gates that those around us would hunger for spiritual things and seek Jesus not a poor substitute. Continue to pray that we would be bold in the face of skepticism and unbelief. 
 
In Christ,
 
David, Rebecca, Elizabeth, Lucas & Isabel

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Finding Him in the Struggles

Posted by David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz
David and Rebecca Ortiz have moved from San Antonio, Texas to Paraguay to join the Lord in what He is already ...
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on Tuesday, 17 June 2014
in Uncategorized

Finding Him in the Struggles

When we get ready to send a ministry update, we usually like to share stories about all we see God doing and maybe even a funny story about our adaptation to a different culture. But as I was praying this time about what God would have us share about the past three months, images flooded my mind about all the trials and challenges we’ve faced and the just plain bad days. Then the immediate follow-up thought was…they don’t want to hear this Lord. They want to hear something that will uplift and encourage them. And God’s resounding answer was, “Share about the struggles. I’m in the difficulties too. Even when you can’t see it.”
 
Now it might be helpful to know I had been reading from Job 33:12-30 that morning and as God taught me from his word I can also say, nothing we have experienced even comes close to the suffering Job endured. But nonetheless God used this chapter to remind me of several things:

  • God always answers, even when we don’t recognize it.
  • God may choose to speak to us to keep us from heading in a certain direction.
  • God may speak to us through pain.
  • God might need to bring us to our knees in prayer so that we will sing his praises and give testimony about all he has done in us.
  • God is constantly pulling our souls back from destruction, so we will see and live in the light.

Over a period of just two days we were shocked to learn that someone close to us had been mugged and a neighborhood family suffered a home break-in that resulted in the loss of a loved one. Our first thoughts were, “God why did we come and bring our family here?” And then we heard that still small voice that reminded us that He had brought us here…it wasn’t by our choice. And when has God ever brought anyone anywhere without going with them? Does this mean that God promises us the road will be easy and that we will always walk in safety and never experience pain? Clearly not—just look at the life of Job. The question we ask God is not “will you be there?” To quote a book I finished recently,  “We know, deep down, that the Father loves us and will take care of us—but we want to settle for much less. We want the form of protection to be our way—according to our shortsighted desire to avoid pain—rather than his way. And he has the welfare of the whole universe in his plan. What our flesh feels—what our heart says to us when it’s breaking—is usually about the pain, rather than God’s plan for the human race.” (Craig Parshall in Custody of the State)
 
In the past three months, we’ve:

  • Shared our faith with people in our neighborhood yet not seen any response
  • Shared one-verse evangelism with the residents at the hospital, only to receive silence afterwards
  • Invested in relationships with ladies only to have them stop responding to our communication attempts
  • Looked to be part of a life group where we can learn what will work culturally here in Paraguay, only to be frustrated that nothing looks quite like the ideal of everyone (including kids) coming together and sharing a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, etc. (1 Cor 14:26)
  • Met new families and shared about Jesus only to learn that their interest in anything spiritual only extends as far as it would be of educational benefit to their children

So how do we wade through all of these things and not getting bogged down in discouragement? To be honest, some days we don’t. Some days are very hard and we fall way short of being filled with anything remotely looking like the joy that God gives us. But that is why God bothered to fill scripture with words that speak to the heart of the matter. You see, nothing we are experiencing is new. The trials and frustrations we face are not that different from what you face in your week. There is this common misconception that it takes a special breed of Christian to be called to missions or overseas ministry, but the reality is that we are just as broken as the rest of the sinners that God has redeemed. We struggle to see how to share our faith, worry about the futures of our children, try our best not to disappoint our spouses, and wage the battle with demanding schedules so full that we wonder where does God have time to fit into the picture, much less be the center of it. Yet despite the discouraging days, we will press on because we know that our struggle is common to those who say yes to Jesus and his promises to us all are worth holding onto. Let us all be encouraged by Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 (The Message paraphrase)…
 
“Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times. We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves [or those around us]. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.”
 
“If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention”…”Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are his messengers, errand runners from Jesus”…”If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that”…
 
”So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
 
Thank you for your faithful support, for coming along side us in prayer—continuing to stand in the gap for the people of Paraguay. Pray with us that God would bring about revival here and that there would be no place for evil to reside in the hearts of men, because they would be so full of His Holy Spirit.
 
God continues to open doors for new relationships and is making inroads as we meet people in the midst of their hurt and pain. Pray that the veil of deceit would be lifted and people would see and believe that Jesus truly is the only answer.

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